Major Chord Family (Lesson 17)


Major chords are built from the Circle of Fifths (and are coincidentally mirrored by their respective Major Scales) and are constructed of Root or 1st, Major Third, M3 or maj3, and the Perfect Fifth or P5. The root should always be the bass note (the lowest note) and none of these intervals should be omitted there are of course exceptions to this rule, which will be discussed later.

In order to effect a C Major (also annotated CM, Cmaj, C+ {though the + in modern music usually denotes the augmentation or adding of an extension to a chord}) the chord must be built from the Key of C Major, taken from the Circle of Fifths: C-1st, D-2nd, E-3rd, F-4th, G-5th, A-6th, B-7th. Therefore, the notes in a C Major Chord are C (the Root or 1st), E (Major 3rd), and G (Perfect 5th). The same formula is employed for all major chords, so a G Major consists of G-1st, B-M3, and D-P5. Notice that the G is the lowest or bass note, if another note in the chord were replace the bass note, an inversion would be formed.

There are ten common major chords: major sixth, major seventh, major seventh flat five, major ninth, major eleventh, major thirteenth, 6/9, add9, add11, add13.

Major Sixth chords (like E6) contain the root, first, third, fifth and sixtha Cmaj6 would contain the notes C-E-G-A. These are not considered altered or extended chords since none of the intervals are in fact altered, and no intervals are extended above the seventh.

Major sixth chord

Major sixth chord

A major seventh chord or maj7 is yielded simply by attaching the seventh to the major chord formula, R, M3, P5, and 7. Hence a Cmaj7 is comprised of C-E-G-B. You will see these chords very often inall genres of music because the seventh “spices” up the chord without making it sound discordant.

Major Seventh Flat Five chords (such as Bmaj7 ♭5) are constructed merely by flatting the fifth interval in a conventional major chord formula: R, M3, ♭5, 7.

Major Ninth chords (such as Cmaj9) consist of the first, third, fifth, seventh and ninth (R, M3, P5, 7, and 9). These should not be confused with the add9 (explained below) because they contain the seventh, while to the contrary, an add9 does not. Remember that you are doing precisely what the symbol annotates, and that is to insert the ninth, whereas add9, add11 or add13 direct you to attach an extended interval to a chord not containing the seventh.

Major Eleventh chords (such as Gmaj11) are constructed with the root, major third, perfect fifth, an optional ninth interval and the eleventh (R, M3, P5, 7, (9), 11). Because there are five essential intervals in this chord, it may not be possible to fret all six intervals, and consequently, the 9th interval is optional.

Major Thirteenth chords (such as Fmaj13) are comprised of the root, major third, perfect fifth, seventh, ninth and of course, the thirteenth (R, M3, P5, 7, 9, 13). Since these chords contain six intervals, it is not always possible to play each one (especially on a bass, let alone a guitar), therefore, in a thirteenth chord; the ninth can be omitted.

6/9 chords are a quasi-combination of M6th and M9th chords. And as each of the M6th and M9th, 6/9 chords contain the root, third and fifth, along with the sixth and ninth (R, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 9th). However, it is imperative to note, unlike the traditional M9th, a 6/9 chord does not contain the seventh.

An add9, add11, or add13 notation is produced simply adding the extended interval to a traditional major chord (ex. C-E-G-D). The reason for the add notation is to alert the musician that only the extension is to be added to the chord.

When you see a note following the add symbol (such as CaddG), this usually denotes that a note already appears in the chord (such as a G note in a C chord), but another octave of the add note is to accompany the first octave as well. G6sus4 does not, we can automatically assume this to be a CaddD. (A good rule of thumb is to remember to look for the third fifth, and even the seventh intervals before looking at “substituted” intervals, such as the fourth and the sixth).

In other instances, adding notes (such as CaddD) serve a dual purpose. The first reason is the interval does not occur in the chord and must be inserted, while the second and more important reason is to tell the reader not to replace or omit any of the original existing intervals. For example, a Csus2 replaces the 3rd and inserts the 2nd respectively, but a CaddD still employs the 3rd and adds the 2nd as well (C-D-E-G). Be careful not to confuse this with inversions.

Furthermore, when written out, a CaddD (C-D-E-G) conceivably forms a G6sus4 or possibly a G6sus4 inversion. However, we know this to be a CaddD chord implicitly from its construction. Since the CaddD chord that contains the third and the commonly referred to as a minor third). Consequently, a C Minor (also denoted as Cm or Cmin) would be constructed from the notes C (1st), E♭ (♭3rd), and G (P5th).

Continue to Lesson 18: Minor Chord Family